In brief: Estella must leave war torn France for a new life in America. But America holds more secrets that she could ever have imagined…it’s up to her granddaughter Fabienne to piece it all together decades later.
The good: Natasha Lester writes stories that you can be confident you will fall in love with.
The not-so-good: Had to stop reading to go to work.
Why I chose it: I wanted a book I knew I would love before I read a single word.
Setting: Paris, New York City and Sydney
Rating: 10 out of 10
Sometimes I just want to read a book that I know I will thoroughly enjoy before I’ve even opened it. In these times, I tend to turn to authors I know and love. Natasha Lester is one of those authors and after reading The Paris Seamstress, she’s engraved into that list permanently. The story is gripping, detailed and despite some of the heartbreaking plot twists, thoroughly enjoyable. I don’t know why I left it so late to read, but the upside is that there is less time to wait before Natasha’s next book (The French Photographer in late March 2019).
The Paris Seamstress is a dual timeline novel, which is the kind of story I adore. The first, more detailed timeline is about Estella who lives in Paris during World War II. A chance meeting and favour leads Estella into trouble and she needs to leave France stat. Her mother sends her to America, where Estella dreams of opening her own atelier one day. On the ship, Estella meets Sam in rather extreme circumstances and a lifelong friendship is formed. But as Estella finds her feet in New York, she discovers not everything is as straightforward as it seems. American fashion is dictated purely by French decrees with little scope for innovation. Then there’s a girl Lena, who looks just like Estella. A case of mistaken identity leads her to Alex, who she last saw on that fateful night in Paris. Lena, Alex and Estella all become tangled in history and a web of secrets that culminates in a trip into German occupied France. What happens will change all their lives… Meanwhile in the present day, Estella’s granddaughter Fabienne is trying to make sense of her own life. She’s landed her dream job, but it’s not what she expected. A chance meeting in France finds her meeting Melissa and Will, who she assisted at the Met Gala. Becoming friends with them has Fabienne questioning her path in life, while Estella encourages her to spread her wings.
The Paris Seamstress is simply beautiful. The plot is complex with some surprising and shocking twists that cause heartbreak but it all seems to fit with the story. Nothing seems implausible or out of place. In an odd kind of way, I liked that Natasha wasn’t afraid to write negative experiences for her characters. I know this sounds cruel, but it made for a more fascinating story! The rich historical detail also makes this novel stand out. I remember being enchanted with the level of detail in Her Mother’s Secret to the point of Googling various things for interest. The detail in The Paris Seamstress is next level, from the workings of an atelier to the detail of jewellery and dresses. I felt immersed in Estella’s world, which is no easy feat, given that I wasn’t around in those times! I’m much more familiar with the time period of Fabienne’s world (of course). Some may argue that her story is not so necessary in the telling of Estella’s but I think it was important for several reasons. One, it allowed closure on the secrets of Estella’s past. It also showed how universal the themes of love and loss are and gave an eternal feel to Estella’s story as Fabienne ponders whether to continue her legacy.
The Paris Seamstress would be a fantastic read, anywhere, anytime. My only caveat was to make sure you minimise all disruptions so you can read through the night!